Tackle crisis in the new varsity funding model

There is a new disturbing development that could have serious ramifications in the education sector: The growing preference for private universities by applicants over public ones following the introduction of the controversial new student funding model.

Private universities have confirmed high increases in the applications for their courses. One has surpassed its target of 7,000 by 877 during the first week of admissions alone. Another tripled its first-year admissions, with about 1,600 students.

Some popular programmes in the private universities are reportedly full and prospective students will have to wait for the January intake. This is as many students who had been placed for courses in the public universities are yet to report.

This is not a good sign for the public sector, which has the more well-established institutions training the high-level manpower the country needs. That some students shun the best public universities for private ones is an ominous signal. It has, of course, come as a huge relief for the private universities, which have experienced low admissions in recent years.

Unless the Education authorities seriously reflect on what could be going on, the country risks a situation where public universities are eclipsed—as at the primary and secondary school level, where the so-called academies reign supreme.

When the Higher Education Loans Board (Helb) enabled the automatic sponsorship of eligible students, private institutions struggled to fill slots. The new model has split the students into special categories to determine who gets a scholarship, bursary or study loan with the applicants categorised as vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy.

Many students are now opting for low-cost courses, shattering their dreams of professional qualifications. Those who have qualified for, say, mechanical engineering but are unable to raise the average Sh300,000 a year fees end up going for the cheaper general courses. Experts have also warned that the new funding model could leave the students with huge loans on completing their courses.

These concerns warrant a review of the entire system.